CHICAGO – Potter & Potter Auctions held its first book sale of 2023, a 531-lot event, on February 16. At the end of a long day of spirited bidding, the auction realized more than $630,000 and had a 95% sell through rate.
Books by, or with ties to, beloved American author Samuel L. Clemens, aka Mark Twain, (1835–1910) generated impressive results. Particularly notable was a first edition presentation copy of W.W. Jacobs’ (English, 1863-1943) Salthaven, inscribed to and by Twain, was the top lot in the sale. It was estimated at $25,000-$35,000 and achieved $31,250. It was published by Methuen & Co. in London in 1908. Twain additionally inscribed on the half title “It’s a delightful book. Mark.” Below, Twain further reaffirmed this statement, apparently in passing the book to someone else: “Bog House, Bermuda, March/10. I have read it about 5 times. The above verdict stands.”
In addition, a 37-volume collection of The Works of Mark Twain, estimated at $6,000-$8,000, made $11,875. This limited edition set was published in New York by Gabriel Wells in the 1923–1925 timeframe, and was number 79 of 1024 copies of the Definitive Edition. It was signed by Twain on the front flyleaf of Volume I. The volumes also retained their original dust jackets.
The February 16 sale featured remarkable first editions of some of the noteworthy books of the past two centuries, such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s (English, 1892–1973) the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, estimated at $10,000-$15,000 and sold for $19,200. The threesome included The Fellowship Of The Ring from 1954, The Two Towers from 1954, and The Return Of The King from 1955. All were published in London by Allen & Unwin Ltd. and had provenance to the bookseller, R.S. Heath Ltd.
A first edition of Henry David Thoreau’s (American, 1817–1862) Walden; or, Life in the Woods, was estimated at $8,000-$12,000 and brought $13,750. It was published in Boston by Ticknor and Fields in 1854, was one of only 2,000 copies printed, and had provenance to Alexander W. Longfellow Sr. (1814–1901), the brother of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Antiquarian books, illustrations and category-bridging publications rounded out the sale. Particularly worthy of mention was a full-length lithographic portrait of Albert Einstein playing the violin, rendered by Emil Orlik. It realized $11,400. The work was drawn in 1928 and signed and dated on its lower left by Einstein, as well as signed and marked as a proof by the artist. Potter and Potter experts could only locate only one other signed proof of this image, which is housed at the American Institute of Physics.
An exceptionally strong auction performance was turned in by a 13-volume set of The Journal of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, which was estimated at $600-$800 and garnered $8,125. The set was edited by Gary E. Moulton and published in Lincoln, Nebraska by the University of Nebraska in the 1986–2000 time frame. This fine set, dubbed the first “new and complete” edition, included the rare atlas volume presenting numerous manuscript maps in facsimile that were produced during the legendary adventure.
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